Alex James, bassist in Blur and self confessed wild man of Brit Pop, retires to a farm in the country and in an act of penitence – a companion to the confessional autobiography – puts himself in danger’s way to make a documentary on the production of what was his drug of choice, cocaine, in Columbia.
But what a disappointment Cocaine: Alex James in Colombia was. Maybe it’s down to Panorama being reduced to half an hour, but it was a terribly unsubstantial piece, more like a trailer for something good.
This documentary failed because it fell into the trap of telling us stuff, without really showing us anything and so there was nothing to connect with emotionally. Alex James spoke earnestly about how cocaine is a cancer eating away at Columbia, destroying an otherwise beautiful country, but never presented us with an opportunity to connect with any Colombians.
So when we’re told at the end that the cab driving hit man, who does a job a day, was killed over the New Year, we’re not bothered. He was only ever a dodgy character hiding in the shadows and those who live by the sword… And then there’s that interview with the country’s president. We’re told he he’s a right winger determined to stamp out the drug trade. Maybe he’s motivated by the death of his father at the hands of drug dealers. At the end Alex James gives him a big ‘people power’ salute (without irony) even though he said absolutely nothing of substance.
And yet throughout all this, is a sense that something dark was going on just beneath the surface. Something we’re protected from. A missed opportunity.
Perhaps Cocaine: Alex James in Colombia was always doomed. It’s easy to connect with these issues on an intellectual level and we all know drugs are bad. Violent crime in Columbia is out of control (but do we really care about drug dealers killing each other). Spraying kills legitimate crops grown alongside the cocaine and creates poverty (but those legitimate crops bring in very little anyway, its cocaine that puts food in the farmers’ mouths).
Just as people continue to buy battery farmed eggs and foie gras despite knowing what the production of these foods entails, so they’ll continue to enjoy cocaine. The end user is too divorced from the production process to really care.
Although, it was quite funny when the Columbians kept making it so clear they’d much prefer to be showing Kate Moss around.